Starts With A Bang

The science of how solar systems begin (Synopsis)

This artist’s impression of the Solar System shows the sizes, but not the distances, of the planets to scale. Image credit: The International Astronomical Union/Martin Kornmesser.

“The new ALMA images show the disk in unprecedented detail, revealing a series of concentric dusty bright rings and dark gaps, including intriguing features that suggest a planet with an Earth-like orbit is forming there.” -Sean Andrews

It takes a lot of work to make a solar system from the raw materials of an interstellar molecular cloud, but the Universe is up to the challenge. We had a theoretical picture that held for a long time, but thanks to the array of modern telescopes that humanity has constructed, we’ve finally been able to put that picture to the test.

30 protoplanetary disks, or proplyds, as imaged by Hubble in the Orion Nebula. Image credit: NASA/ESA and L. Ricci (ESO).

Would protostars form from gravitational collapse? Would they wind up with protoplanetary disks around them? Would those disks develop asymmetries and, later, gaps where young planets formed? And then, would the central star ignite and burn off the rest of the materials, where only the planetary survivors would persist?

When nuclear fusion ignites, ultraviolet radiation works to blast any remaining protoplanetary material away. Image credit: NASA/ESA, J. Bally (University of Colorado, Boulder, CO), H. Throop (Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, CO), C.R. O’Dell (Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN).

We’ve now got the evidence for all of this, and the answer is a resounding, overwhelming yes! Come see for yourself.